Its the bank holiday here in the UK and typically (where I am now) its raining. So what better way to spend a wet Saturday evening and review a new Clement-sector product from Gypsy Knights Games?
Skull and Crossbones is one of the latest releases from Gypsy Knights Games, released on Drivethru RPG at $9.99 for the PDF or softcover book and PDF bundle for $19.99. It uses the OGL Traveller-compatible game engine and in the past few days, a Traveller Cepheus Engine version as part of the same download package has been released. It is not licensed under the Mongoose second edition Traveller rules, however there is nothing stopping a referee in using ‘Skull and Crossbones’ and adapting the game mechanics if you wish to use the MG2 Traveller edition. The book is 88 pages long and is written by John Watts, along with contributions from Bradley Warnes, Ian Stead and Michael Johnson.
The book starts with an ‘Introduction to Piracy’ in the Clement Sector, describing how the first incidents occured and how it has spread across the sector before and after the collapse.
The next section details how much piracy there is in the four major subsectors, including Hub, Cascadia, Franklin and Sequoyah. However, on the frontier worlds and sectors such as Dade and Winston, piracy is rife due to the ease of establishing bases and the (lack of) ability of the frontier worlds to deal with piracy. A lot of detail is presented in these sections; information on an individial world governments stance on piracy and their approach to dealing with it. It varies widely, some due to historical reasons, some due to the size of their own defence force and some due to political reasons. There are a huge number of hints that can be used for adventure ideas and encounters.
The following section describes ‘pirate strategy and tactics’. There are a number of ways that piracy can take place such as boarding actions and marauding; these are described in detail along with game mechanics and modifiers. Not all pirate actions are due to a particular ‘traditional’ pirate group or crew, some are commited by corporations against other corporations as actions in a long-standing feud. The way that pirates deal with their victims also varies, some may just want the cargo, others may want the cargo, the ship, some of the crew to sell as slaves and dump the rest on an asteroid (if they’re lucky).
Pirates need a base with which to operate from and these are covered in the ‘Pirate Havens’ section. Pirates like all starships, cannot operate indefinitely and need somewhere to rest, rearm, repair (the three ‘R’s?) so that they can continue their activities. The code of operations on certain worlds are covered, along with examples of percentages that mafia families will take to allow you to trade (or they’ll make sure you never taste space again…!)
Piracy in its various forms always brings certain personalities to the fore and these are described (along with copious amounts of gorgeous colour illustrations by Bradley Warnes) in the section titled ‘Famous Pirates and Pirate Bands’. There are some really interesting groups and individuals described here; one of my favourites is the ‘Free Apes of Leonidas’, a group of uplifted apes who remind me of the film ‘Planet of the Apes’ in their (violent) attitude to humans. I don’t think you’d want to stay around if you came across this group! Another group called ‘Stannis’ Raiders’ has shades of ‘Blakes 7’ (a popular sci-fi TV series on UK television in the late 70’s and early 80’s) and I recognise the (mixed) names of the characters and actors mentioned from the programme.
Pirate Life can be very brutal and hard, but there is a ‘code’ with which pirates are expected to live by. This section describes what those codes are and what it is like to lead a life of piracy. Pirate life ranges from some of the initiation traditions, meeting out justice when someone commits a crime and how crews are dealt with after being captured by a pirate crew. An interesting inititation is ‘Bubble Riding’ where a prospective crew member is given a vacc suit and line attached to the outside of the ship, just long enough so that they are dragged along inside the Zimm space ‘bubble’. This is enough to send some mad, some are killed but those that survive are given a badge of honour to wear for their achievement.
Pirates need ships and if they can’t capture others, they make their own; two types are described along with colour illustrations by Ian Stead and deck plans by Michael Johnson; the ‘Demon-class Pirate Lembus’ and the ‘Ironbard-class Pirate Longship’. Full game stats are listed along with side and ‘action’ illustrations. In reading how the ships are constructed, I did wonder at a pirate groups ability to build such sophisicated craft, to a standard set of plans. I compared this to the story ‘a Pirate World’ in the TTA book ‘Great Space Battles’ where the mutants of Capella would raid merchants, using craft built from stolen parts gathered from the graveyard of Beta Pavonis. Spacecraft manufacturing is a complicated and expensive business and if the roumors described in ‘Skull and Crossbones’ are correct, then the authorities have a huge problem on their hands! Ah, idea for an adventure… players infiltrate a pirate group… some have to go through different initiations… risk of getting a ‘Bubble Ride’… then try and find out where the pirate manufacturing facility is based and get the information back to the authorities. If the players survive, then I’m sure there are some pirate personalities that would put a pretty bounty on the players head…!
Pirates don’t get it all their own way and there are anti-piracy efforts under way; one example is a ‘Letter of Marque’ which gives the holder (under certain restrictions) to legally attack pirate ships and their crews. Again, plenty of scope for adventure ideas if the players are brave enough to act as privateers for a government.
Throughout the book there are several pages describing the now-familiar (GKG-style) action situation / commentary; I always enjoy reading these as they help to put some life into a books game mechanics and turn what could be quite a dry / game-engine orientated book, into something that sparks the imagination.
The final pages list some adventure seeds for pirates, non-pirates and random encounter tables for different types of starport and type of world.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Skull and Crossbones’; I particularly like the rules / mechanics-lite approach (eg. not including large amounts of roll for this, DM for that) and Johns style of concentrating on creating the environment and descriptions of the setting. There is *tons* of useful material and ideas to spark the imagination that belies the excellent price of $9.99. I can highly recommend this book from Gypsy Knights Games and I would like to John Watts for kindly sending me a copy to review.